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Remember the Contagious Christian program? I do. And I’m sure many others do as well and even currently use it in their churches. It was the first curriculum in which I was exposed to and taught to use something called the “sinner’s prayer.” This prayer was designed to help lead others to Christ by providing the evangelist with an outline of what a desirous convert to the Christian faith should pray. It usually goes something like this, “Dear Father, please forgive me for my sins. I am sorry that I have sinned and I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and ask you to come into my heart and be the Lord of my life. Thank you for saving me. Amen.” Now there is nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer or even with using the sinner’s prayer. I myself repeated the sinner’s prayer when I began to follow the Lord and have had others repeat it after me. But, I have not used the sinner’s prayer for several years now. And here is why:

First, the sinner’s prayer causes people to trust in themselves and not in Christ. What I mean is, there are moments in every Christian’s life when they ask themselves, “Am I really a Christian?” Unfortunately, too many people have thought to themselves, “Yes, I have prayed the prayer, I am a Christian.” But in that crucial moment they are trusting they are alright with God because they have prayed a prayer. This is a self-centered trust opposite of the Gospel. They believe that a prayer has made them a Christian when only Christ makes someone a Christian. I believe in times of doubt that it is better for a Christian to not have an available crutch in the sinner’s prayer on which to rest their trust but instead be forced to rely solely on Christ for the assurance of their salvation.

Second, it allows many individuals to falsely believe that they are a Christian. Many individuals sincerely believe they are a Christian and even claim to be a Christian but when they are pressed for an explanation of what makes them a Christian are unaware of such basic tenants as Jesus Christ died on a cross in their place for their sins. Often the reason for this is that they were encouraged to “say the prayer” at which time they repeated a few words and were assured they were a Christian. The sinful human heart is then all too happy to play along, insidiously whispering “you are okay” while hiding its rebellion against God even from its owner.

Third, it hinders evangelism. This is because people, who believe they are okay with God, because they prayed a prayer, often use this as the first line of defense in brushing off any future evangelistic inquiries. They say, “Don’t worry about me. I’ve prayed the prayer.” The sinner’s prayer then becomes the means by which unbelievers avoid the Gospel and rebuff casual inquires which may have borne fruit. The sinner’s prayer becomes a roadblock to evangelism and the evangelist must first undo the sinner’s prayer before effective communication of the Gospel can occur.

Fourth, it shortchanges the work of the Holy Spirit. This is because the sinner’s prayer is often treated as the goal of any evangelistic encounter. The idea is to show a person their need for salvation, present the Gospel message, and offer the sinner’s prayer as the way to be saved. But the Holy Spirit does not work on our timetable. Often He works through our words to convict the hearer’s heart of sinfulness. Then when the hearer feels their sin, we prematurely speak peace to their troubled conscience by having them pray the sinner’s prayer before the Holy Spirit was pleased to work a deep and abiding conviction of sin and need for a Savior. The sting of the Spirit’s conviction is blunted by the prayer and the unconverted individual is comforted just enough to allow themselves to think about other things. At times the most loving thing an evangelist can do is not to comfort their hearer.

Fifth, it becomes the criterion by which we discern the genuineness of a person’s faith. We are led to believe a person is a Christian because they prayed a prayer with evident sincerity. But repeating words out of a tract does not make a person a Christian. Christ makes a person a Christian through faith. But the sinner’s prayer, because of its wide usage becomes the unofficial acid test of whether or not someone is a Christian. This becomes dangerous when an unbeliever, who is thought to be a believer, is placed in a position of leadership in a worship service, a youth group, a Sunday school class, or even a pastorate. They will be the person making decisions for the church and the church will suffer for it. But some may ask, “Is it even our role to judge someone else’s faith? That sounds awfully un-Christ like!” To this it should be demonstrated that Paul himself gives us the criteria by which we are to judge who is genuinely born of God when he tell us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5)

Sixth, it causes Christians to be inarticulate when sharing their faith. Anyone can say “repeat after me…” without any serious reflection on the message of the Scriptures. Without the formulaic sinner’s prayer it may become more difficult to lead an individual to Christ but it also summons greater reflection on the part of the evangelist who is forced to ponder, own, and clearly articulate the call of the Gospel for themselves.

Seventh, we don’t need it! This is not a great argument against the sinner’s prayer, after all, there are a million things we use every day that we do not truly need. But this seventh reason is simply to point out that the majority of Christians who have ever come to faith in Christ have never even heard of a “sinner’s prayer.” It is only a recent invention in Christian history. When is the last time you heard any of the early Church fathers, Reformers, writers of Scripture, or Jesus himself recommend the use of a prepackaged sinner’s prayer? You have not because the sinner’s prayer simply did not exist. Yet generations of believers before now have had no problem sharing their faith without a prepackaged prayer. We are not dependent on it, and in my opinion should be free from it as the dominant way to think about evangelism.

I say there is a better way to call people to place their faith in Christ. What do you say?

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Israel 186I need the Gospel. I need it. I need it every day and my heart dies to God without it.

There are times in life when it seems that God chooses to build a theological truth into your life. I believe over the past year God has been showing me my daily need for a dose of the Gospel.

If I do not daily consider the Gospel – the truth that God through Christ has undeservingly provided for my righteousness and the forgiveness of my sins, and not because of anything I have done – then my heart begins to wander. I act as if I have to earn my salvation. Having daily evidence that I could never earn my salvation I begin to lose joy in my Savior. Scripture becomes a chore to read. I become attracted to worship music because of its catchy tune and not because of the truth contained in its lyrics. My patience with others wears thin. I am overly critical. My humor begins to sting and I am not gracious to others. Instead of my conversations being about Christ they are about ministry and church related issues. When I am presented with opportunities to tell others about Christ I don’t.

This is why I need the Gospel. I need to hear over and over again about the grace of Christ – that I do not deserve forgiveness but yet the Father had mercy on me. I was bankrupt in all things but God gave me everything in his Son. I am not smart enough to know Christ on my own but God gave us the Scriptures to know his Son. – I need to hear the Gospel daily because it shows me the mercy of God. It breaks my self reliance. It fills my heart with worship for my Savior. It glorifies God by my dependence. And it proves him to be exceedingly precious.

I need the Gospel preached to me every day if I am to live as a Christian. Those who do not know Christ need the Gospel and Christians need the Gospel.

lightI remember, as a little child, sitting in a church pew wondering if I would go to heaven. It is one of my clearest memories of being a child. I would feel anxious and I would ask myself, “Am I a good enough person to go to heaven?” In the end I was always able to convince myself that I was indeed a good person; that there was no way God could refuse me entry into heaven. Eventually I would find enough comfort in this thought and ignore my anxiety.

Since then I have discovered that this is a very common misunderstanding. Many people I have talked to, even those who consider themselves to be Christians, truly believe they will enter heaven because they are a good person. I know I myself considered myself a Christian. At that point in my life I had attended an Episcopal church, sang in the choir at a United Methodist church, attended a Southern Baptist church, another United Methodist church, been baptized in a third United Methodist church, and attended Sunday school in a Full Gospel church without ever once hearing how to get to heaven.

Once when I was sharing this with a friend at UPS he stopped me by reassuring me that he was a Christian and was a good person who deserved to go to heaven. I was very glad that he brought this up because it allowed me to point out to him that although he considered himself a Christian and believed he would be in heaven with the God of the Bible, he did not believe what the Bible taught or what Jesus himself told us about ourselves or about God. For example, the Bible tells us in Romans (chapter 3) that:

“None is righteous, no, not one”

“No one seeks for God. All have turned aside”

“No one does good, not even one.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Notice how serious this is: “None is righteous,” meaning zero. No one. No person anywhere. And just in case we missed the point the emphasis is added, “no, not one.” It is pretty clear that this is the view of Scripture: no one will make it to heaven by being a good person because no one is a good person in God’s eyes. Everyone has committed sin and turned away from God. The affect of our sin is then described in Isaiah (chapter 59):

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Therefore, according to the Bible “No one does good, not even one” and because of it there is “a separation between you and your God” so that He has hidden his face (his loving presence) from you. So, please, if you are like I was and you think you can know God or make it to heaven by being a good person, please stop. Be honest with yourself and do not play games. Do not fool yourself into thinking God accepts any “good” person. That is not what the Scriptures say. This idea has no basis in anything but the sinfulness of the human heart wanting to deny that it is really that bad.

But, for those who come to the end of themselves and realize they cannot be good enough there is a great gift. God’s Son was born as a man. His name is Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a sinless life, performed miracles, fulfilled precise prophecies written hundreds of years before His birth, and died on a cross as God the Father had planned before the world was even created. During His death on the cross God the Father punished Jesus as if He were the person who had committed all of our sins. The Scriptures say (Isaiah 53):

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

And this is the gift, God offers us forgiveness. Free forgiveness. And righteousness, the righteousness that Jesus earned as He lived a perfect life. All of this is a gift, absolutely free, if we would place our trust in Jesus. We can never be good enough to overcome the separation our sins have made with God but God has provided a way to cleanse us from our sin if we by faith accept Jesus. This means we must come to a place where we hate our sin and desire Jesus instead. It has to be an intentional response of your will. It will not just happen. It cannot be a one-time-decision, repeated prayer, or walk down a church aisle. It might even follow a period of deep anguish and soul searching. It cannot be earned but it is a free offer:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10-11)

May Jesus Christ be glorified as the only Savior of men.

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